Not only did Shakespeare mention morris dancing, but his Spanish contemporary did too.
Cervantes's Don Quixote, in the Penguin Classics translation by J. M. Cohen, has the following passage in a description of an upcoming wedding in Part 2, Chapter XIX:
- He has also got up some sword-dances and some morris dances, for there are many in the village who can jingle and shake the bells to perfection.
And in Chapter XX:
- Shortly afterwards several different teams of dancers began to march into various parts of the arbour, among them a band of sword-dancers, some two dozen shepherds of gallant looks and bearing, all dressed in the finest and whitest of linen, with multi-coloured headdresses worked in fine silk. One of those on horseback asked their leader, a sprightly youth, whether any of the dancers had hurt himself.
- `None of us has been hurt, up to now, thank Goodness,' said he. `We are all fit.' And presently he began to wind his way among his companions, twisting and turning with such skill that, used as Don Quixote was to seeing such dances, this one seemed better than any he had ever beheld.
And one brief mention in chapter LXI:
- And their ears were regaled at the same instant by the sound of countless oboes and kettledrums, the ringing of morrice-bells, and the `Tramp, tramp! Make way, make way!' of people, who appeared to be coming from the city.
Here are the same passages in Spanish, from a version edited by Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce (pardon me for omitting the accents):
- Tiene asimesmo maheridas danzas, asi de aspadas como de cascabel menudo, que hay en su pueblo quien los repique y sacuda por estremo...
Referring to "cascabel menudo", the editor gives this footnote, with translation by Steve Allen of Seabright Morris and Sword:
- cascabel menudo: <<los danzantes de las fiestas y regocijos se ponen sartales de cascabeles en los jarretes de las piernas, y los mueven al son del instrumento>>; Covarrubias.
- (little jinglebells: "the dancers of the festivals and joyful-occasions put strings of jinglebells on the upper-calves of the legs, and moved them to the sound of an instrument"; Covarrubias.)
The second passage:
- De alli a poco comenzaron a entrar por diversas partes de la enramada muchas y diferentes danzas, entre los cuales venia una de espadas, de hasta veinte y cuatro zagales de gallardo parecer y brio, todos vestidos de delgado y blanquisimo lienzo, con sus panos de tocar, labrados de varias colores de fina seda; y al que los guiaba, que era un ligero mancebo, pregunto uno de los de las yeguas si se habia herido alguno de los danzantes.
- -- Por ahora, bendito sea Dios, no se ha herido nadie: todos vamos sanos.
- Y luego comenzo a enredarse con los demas companeros, con tantas vueltas y tanta destreza, que aunque don Quijote extaba hecho a ver semehantes danzas, ninguna le habia parecido tan bien como aquella.
- ... el son de muchas chirimias y atabales, ruido de cascabeles...
John Ormsby's translation provides the following notes:
- In the sword-dances the dancers carried swords with which they made cuts and passes at each other, the art of the performance consisting in going as near as possible without doing any injury. The bell-dancers wore a dress hung with little bells after the fashion of the morris-dancers in England.
(Seeming to imply that the Spanish dance derived from the English, rather contrary to what the scholars now say, but never mind.)
- The sword-dance was exceedingly dangerous, so much so that it was prohibited in course of time.
In a country that still permits bull-running?
Finally, some quotes from Francis George Very's The Spanish Corpus Christi Procession: A Literary and Folkloric Study (1962):
- The dances of the Corpus Christi procession may be divided into two main groups -- danzas, such as the sword dance, the chacona, the valenciano, and the morisca, performed in the street at intervals in the procession, and the elaborately costumed ballets, often danced on carros or on stages erected in the town square...
- The danzas must in their turn be divided into classes: danzas de cuenta or de sarao, and danzas de cascabel.... The term de cascabel probably derives ultimately from the use of sets of small bells sewn onto the clothing of the performers, much as in English morris dances. Nevertheless many of the most important dances of Corpus belonged to this type, notably the sword dance and its variants.
- It is often difficult, if not impossible, to tell the variants of the sword dance apart; such is the case with dances termed morisca, for ... in this classification were included warlike dances, true Moors-and-Christian combats, purely social dances, with nothing Moorish about them, solo dances in which the performer blackened his face and wore bells on his legs, and finally dances with a large complement of persons dressed as Moors but without bells, and who executed steps which were meant rather to convey a feeling of lo morisco than to pretend to any authenticity.
So -- how much do Cervantes's danzas de cascabeles have to do with English morris? Who can tell?